A Philippine Navy (PN) frigate that grounded four years ago on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea is back in service after extensive repair works.
The PN announced that its offshore patrol vessel BRP Gregorio Del Pilar has been restored to operation after undergoing an extensive overhaul.
The frigate went aground on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea on August 29, 2018 and has been out of service ever since. An initial dive inspection found no hull damage, but the starboard propeller was no longer attached to its driveshaft.
The reef, known as Half Moon Shoal or Hasa Hasa, is on the edge of the Spratly Islands. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and others have overlapping claims in the region. China operates seven man-made, militarized island bases in the Spratly chain.
Completion of the frigate’s repair was delayed by two years due to difficulties in procuring parts, including the propeller hub and parts for the repairs of controllable pitch propellers. The COVID-19 pandemic also complicated repair procedures.
PN spokesperson Commander Benjo Negranza said Del Pilar is now ready to set sail after years of efforts to bring back her operational readiness. The repairs were done on drydock in Subic Bay, Zambales.
“Her propulsion system was successfully restored last August and performed a series of sea trials and endurance run with satisfactory results. System upgrades were also made, enhancing her capability for maritime domain awareness,” he said.
Del Pilar is the first ship of the Del Pilar-class offshore patrol vessels, which also includes the Ramon Alcaraz and Andres Bonifacio. The three ships are the former U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters USCGC Hamilton, Dallas and Boutwell.
The 3,250 tonnes frigates have a length of 115 meters and are powered by classic Fairbanks-Morse 38TD8-1/8-12 12-cylinder diesel engines and Pratt & Whitney FT4A-6 gas turbines. The cutters have a top speed of 29 knots, and they all retain their original 76mm and 25mm autocannons.
The return to service of Del Pilar is a boost to the PN, which has been pushing for a larger budget to invest in more hardware in order to “deter potential foreign aggressors at sea,” a reference to China’s increasing push to control the vast waters of South China Sea.
Last year, the Philippines signed a $487.6 million contract with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries for the procurement of two corvettes capable of conducting anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft missions. The 116-meter corvettes would reinforce the PN’s existing two lead warships, the guided missile frigates Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna, which were both launched in 2019.
Early this year, the country also inked a $330 million deal with India’s BrahMos Aerospace for the delivery of three shore-based supersonic ramjet missile batteries.